Clint Eastwood was initially hesitant to film Dirty Harry’s cynical ending because he thought it would distract from the story. Yet, it is the perfect ending for the movie.
The conclusion of Dirty Harry strikes a lovely note, but Clint Eastwood almost wrecked it. With Westerns like the Dollars trilogy and Hang ‘Em High, Eastwood made a reputation for himself, but by the end of the 1960s, it was clear that the genre was fading.
Clint Eastwood took on the role of Dirty Harry after celebrities like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Paul Newman declined. It was not only a huge hit upon its initial release in 1971, but it also essentially proved that cop movies had mostly surpassed Westerns in terms of popularity with viewers.
Although while many audiences identified with Harry’s unyielding approach to the law, many illustrious critics, like Pauline Kael, deemed the movie’s viewpoints to be fascist.
These accusations were so severe that Eastwood’s character was set against a gang of vigilante cops in the first sequel, Magnum Force (1973), to stress that the original wasn’t supporting “Dirty” Harry’s strategy.
After kidnapping a school bus full of children, Andrew Robinson’s serial killer Scorpio was shot by Harry in the original movie’s climactic scene. Harry killed the killer and threw his badge away in anger.
On the other side, Eastwood lobbied to have the ending of Dirty Harry removed because he did not like how frequently his partners met tragic ends.
Harry grows progressively frustrated with the legal system throughout the book since Scorpio is given a pass despite though he is guilty.
The ending of 1952’s Western High Noon is referenced as Harry throws his badge to symbolize his discontent with the system, as he turned to vigilantism only to make sure Scorpio couldn’t escape again.
Eastwood believed that Dirty Harry’s ending signaled that the character was quitting and that Harry’s decision to give away his badge sent the incorrect message to the audience.
“There was a big fight between Don and Clint over what to do about the badge at the very end of the film,” Robinson told Rue Morgue. Robinson and filmmaker Don Siegel decided Harry had to give up his badge because “he’s an outlier, a vigilante.”
Eastwood disapproved of the angle and convinced Siegel not to record it. The franchise potential of Dirty Harry, in his opinion, could be harmed by the character’s retirement from the force.
Nevertheless, on the big day, Eastwood had a change of heart and decided that the character should indeed throw away his badge.
It is difficult to imagine another conclusion when the character simply walks away, but Dirty Harry’s final shot is faultless. Magnum Force was released barely two years after the first film, thus Eastwood didn’t have to worry about reenacting this sequence.
The detective is back at work when the story starts, and the sequel makes no mention of Harry throwing away his badge. For his longest-lasting franchise, Eastwood returned to the role three more times in the films The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and the 1988 slasher The Dead Pool.